INGLEWOOD – Ten years ago, the state of California took control of the Inglewood Unified School District after years of mismanagement had left it almost broke. Hopes soared that the once-robust 17-school district, which was 18,000 students strong at the turn of the century, would rebound and return to glory as a flagship of the South Bay.
Sadly, this has not only failed to come to fruition, but the district is in even worse shape than before it entered receivership. Enrollment has fallen to under 9,000 students, and teachers and classified staff have exited in droves, leaving skeleton crews at each school. Moreover, turnover at the district office has become a constant, as staffer after staffer have left for other opportunities.
The district’s current superintendent, LACOE’s Erika Torres, has held the post since Nov. 2019 – longer than any of her five predecessors. But like those before her, she has failed to articulate or manifest a true direction for IUSD, a plan to increase student enrollment, or truly commit to remodeling and making much-needed improvements to facilities, which are falling apart at some locations.
Torres and LACOE allow bad-to-terrible administrative leadership at some school sites to continue by turning a blind eye to grossly ineffective and/or corrupt leaders who often demoralize staff members. There seems to be no IUSD plan to retain good administrators or teachers, who are offered little to no support. District leaders do not communicate well with those they employ, usually ignoring their requests for assistance or guidance. They seem to respond only when there is a threat of action for their inaction.
The district could be working to tackle serious issues that are not unique to IUSD, which include closing the achievement gap, getting students to return to school from pandemic restrictions, and addressing student mental health issues, which have accelerated since March, 2020. Yet, none of these crisises seem to be on the “to-do” list of the district.
What they are busy doing is consolidating and closing facilities – including Warren Lane Elementary – instead of trying to improve the schools and stoke enrollment. Officials claim the district needs the money, when balancing the books was supposed to be one of the first tasks they would complete a decade ago.
Disorganization and mismanagement seem to be the calling card of those who currently fill the district office. An example: the baseball field near Inglewood High School was closed the week before the season was to start for renovation. (Why wait so late?) When it did reopen, the field was improperly marked and the bases were put in the wrong places. In contrast, the field at IUSD’s other high school, Morningside, is unkempt, with tall grass growing everywhere and dugouts filled with dust and insects.
IUSD’s secondary schools need the most restructuring. Discipline continues to be a major problem in most of the middle and high schools because the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program has been rolled out at only a few sites. Students largely understand that there are no consequences for misbehavior and no reinforcements for success and citizenship, and they see that if they do want to change, there is no support for that.
Academically, the majority of the district’s middle and high school students fall into the “basic,” “below basic” and “far below basic” categories, with a minority attaining “proficient” or “advanced” status. It is not uncommon for teachers to encounter students who are several grade levels behind in both reading and math. This leads to serious issues on both sides.
Students who are unable to do or understand assignments are prone to give up, or to exhibit learned helplessness, where they don’t even try because they assume they’ll fail. Some act out to disguise their feelings of inadequacy, which frustrates teachers who often have no disciplinary structure to support helping the child. Sometimes disruptive students will influence peers to join them, and at other times, an underachieving student will become truant.
Teachers often aren’t given enough support, direction or tools to help students, which can include intervention and/or communication with families. The result is frustration, depression, burnout, or all of the above.
Mental health issues, as well as drug and alcohol use and abuse, have been more prevalent at IUSD’s secondary schools since the pandemic, and the district has yet to address the problem, or offer any solutions.
Another major issue in secondary schools is student’s growing cell phone usage and dependence, which some teachers characterize as addiction. Prying phones from children’s hands requires working with parents and caregivers, but there is no support structure for that in place.
District officials do not have a presence on any school campus, nor do they interact or work with families, parents or the community. The NFL’s Rams are in town, and could be involved in a partnership with IUSD, as could the NBA’s Clippers, who will arrive in two years. But if these possibilities have been explored, it is not apparent.
All of these issues, coupled with the district’s failure to have and implement a vision, a plan and execute leadership, is causing serious frustration and misery for both staff and students, and this is the reason many on both sides are choosing to leave IUSD.
Why is the California Department of Education allowing an inadequate organization like LACOE, to continue to pretend to run the district?
It’s as if Torres is intentionally doing below the minimum to drive students out the district, to justify shutting down our schools.
We can only wonder as we continue to watch IUSD crumble before our eyes.
Alithis can be reached at email@example.com.